SK: We all talking about bringing down marketing and production costs but the industry should be thinking about how to bring down the cost of prints. Also, the quality of projection makes a huge difference to collections. When you make a film like Bahubali, where you spend so much and you have to go and look for a good quality screen at some cinemas…
AT: But, Kumar, we are a Third World country. When you can go to a single-screen cinema, why should they flock to the plexes?
SK: I am not talking about plexes or single-screens, I am talking about the quality of projection. Now cost is not a factor because for the cost of a high-end digital projector, you can get almost the same experience as the other cinemas. Today, the cost difference isn’t much.
AT: But, with single-screens, they count every penny because they don’t have the numbers. So it is very difficult for them to make that investment. How many successful films do we have every year?
NA: The cost to upgrade…
AT: No, what I am saying is that with single-screens, the numbers are so pathetic that they can barely sustain their costs. They can buy expensive projectors only if the numbers increase.
SK: This is a chicken-and-egg story. All over the world, the quality of projection has risen but, in India, we are still stuck.
PJ: But, Kumar, Anil has a valid point. How many films do we have for single-screens and B and C centres?
NG: I would like to think we have a lot of films.
SK: That depends. There are times when a small city gets quality cinema and collections suddenly jump.
PJ: That is different. We are talking about the single-screens we have.
AT: That single-screen audience cannot afford to watch every single film that releases.
NG: But from the integration point of view, there are screens available that can be converted to 2K, Scrabble or UFO.
AT: The problem is, the cinema owner doesn’t have the money to invest in this technology.
NG: If he is keen on improving projection and offering the audience a better experience, he will have an advantage even over a multiplex. Today Chandan Cinema (a singleplex) is thriving and PVR Juhu (a multiplex) is also thriving, and they are a stone’s throw away from each other. Clearly, both of them are digital and both of them offer quality services to the audience. So a big film like Bajrangi Bhaijaan collects at both cinemas but it is addressing a different crowd in each cinema. What I am trying to say is that cinema owners should stop crying about not having money; they need to take the initiative. Don’t they have other sources of revenue such as service tax and service charge?
NG: They cannot throw up their hands.
AT: But, Neeraj, even after you account for charge, look at the average. Tanu Weds Manu…
SK: Anil, you are not getting the point. The minute quality changes, collections will change.
NA: Maybe the single-screen owner is not getting collections because he is unable to…
NG: …get his toilets clean.
NA: Yes, they are not getting adequate collections because of poor projection systems or because of the ambience.
AT: Why is it that in the same cinema, a
Bahubali collects but a film like Tanu Weds Manu Returns doesn’t?
NA: It’s the genre of the film, yaar.
AT: That is exactly my point.
SK: I don’t agree. I think it’s not the genre. I think if their toilets are clean, if the cinema upgrades, they can get a Tanu Weds Manu kind of audience. We assume the single-screen audience doesn’t want to watch films like this.
AT: But a Bajrangi Bhaijaan or a PK does brisk business at the same cinema. How many such films cater to that section of the audience in a year?
RA: We are not increasing our audience base. The reason is that the screens we have are not good enough, where the family audience can watch a film. The audience that watched PK and Bajrangi is almost the same but the collections of Bajrangi were lower. Why?
AT: Because the ticket rates are different. Distributors want ticket rates to increase even in crappy cinemas but will that audience be able to afford it? Reduce the rates and watch how occupancy rises.
SK: Anil, if I agree with you that there are not enough films that cater to that section of the audience, then exhibitors have to upgrade to be able to cater to all audiences.
AT: I am not disagreeing with you but, then, how many genres of films are we making for single-screens?
SK: Anil, if a single-screen upgrades, it will be able to screen multiple genres.
AT: Okay, so a distributor has to support that.
AT: But after every last big film, you ask the exhibitor to raise ticket rates for the next big film. You will have to stop doing that. If I have a 1,000-seater, what is the average occupancy my film enjoys in that single-screen? 30 per cent or 40 per cent. If you lower ticket prices, you might even raise your average occupancy.